Hey y’all, it’s me, Sam Lansky, and this is my column, Pop Think, where I try to keep you guys from finding out about my secret alter ego who is actually an international pop star with an adorably consonant name. (Fun fact: In my will, I’ve requested that the epitaph on my tombstone read, “He was just being Miley.”)
But really, I do love Miley Cyrus, not only because Can’t Be Tamed was an unheralded pop masterpiece (seriously, if you haven’t listened to “Permanent December” recently, your life is probably 50% less joyful than it should be), but because Miley has one of the most honest relationships with the media of any pop star. While many artists are busy working double-time to save face, Miley has a track record of being brazenly and unabashedly vocal about what she believes in, which I think is pretty rad and kinda inspirational.
The truth is that Miley really can’t be tamed, and even when her choices are unpopular, the sultry chanteuse sticks to her guns. Courage of conviction is hard to come by, which is why I think Miley is a much better role model than we tend to give her credit for.
Credit: Getty Images
In early 2011, an AOL poll voted Miley Cyrus the worst celebrity role model for young girls, well above Lindsay Lohan and Teen Mom’s Amber Portwood. Timing no doubt played a role in this, since the poll arrived a month after Miley’s notorious salvia-smoking video gripped headlines, but it’s a clarion reminder of how fickle the public can be, especially when it comes to their teen idols.
I don’t want to dwell too much on her past missteps, although, it’s no secret that Miley’s image as a Disney Channel pop princess was as squeaky-clean as they come — which, it should be noted, is a nearly impossible standard to maintain. But like clockwork, as she moved through adolescence, she was hit with one scandal after another: revealing photos of the underage chanteuse taken by A-list shutterbug Annie Leibowitz for a Vanity Fair shoot, a provocative pole-dancing performance of “Party in the U.S.A.” at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards, that explosive bong video, and most recently, footage from her 19th birthday party, where Miley owns up to smoking “way too much f—— weed.” (Her rep later said that Miley was just being a “smart-ass” and the weed comment was an “inside joke.” Go figure.)
But Miley has a long track record of taking responsibility for her choices, even if they’ve been lamentable. She’s issued public apologies for her photo scandals, and managed the bong scandal as gracefully as someone in her position can — she parodied the situation on a “Saturday Night Live” skit, since the show had already developed an ongoing bit parodying Miley’s goofy personality and banter with her father. She’s also been candid about her position as a role model, telling Harper’s Bazaar last year that “My job isn’t to tell your kids how to act or how not to act because I’m still figuring that out for myself… Your kids are going to make mistakes whether I do or not. That’s just life.” Wise words, considering she’s still a teenager.
+ Read more on Miley Cyrus’ role model status after the jump.
What’s really key, though, is how Miley has taken a stand on the issues that she’s passionate about; and it’s in a strong-minded, opinionated way, not in the gently democratic mode that most PR-prepped stars utilize. Despite her largely conservative fan base, she’s been a vocal advocate for gay rights and marriage equality, even going so far as to get a tattoo of an equal sign on her finger, indicating her support of the cause. When she tweeted a picture of the fresh ink, with the attached message “All LOVE is equal,” it caused an uproar among her more traditional fan base. Miley remained undeterred by the backlash: She just posed for the NOH8 campaign to show her continued support for the movement.
She’s tackled the subject of body image, too, demonstrating a willingness to get personal on the issue, rather than keeping it in the abstract. When someone on Twitter called her fat, she posted a picture of a skeletal woman with the message: “By calling girls like me fat, this is what you’re doing to other people. I love myself & if you could say the same you wouldn’t be sitting on your computer trying to hurt others.” Then she posted a picture of Marilyn Monroe, looking curvy in a white dress, including the enclosed text: “PROOF that you can be adored by thousands of men, even when your thighs touch.” This is a common meme, but it commands additional attention coming from someone with four million followers. A lot of celebs use Twitter as a platform to publicly shame their detractors, but Miley used it as an opportunity to initiate a dialogue about the impossible standards of thinness promoted in the entertainment industry — and it worked, with Demi Lovato and Kelly Osbourne joining the tweetversation.
Of course, Miley is not a saint, and she’s stated publicly that she has no interest in being a role model. But like it or not, she is, and the embarrassing scandals that have plagued her public image don’t have to be the only thing we notice. It goes without saying that precious few people have sailed through the turbulent waters of teenagerdom without their share of mistakes, only Miley’s done it with a million paparazzi waiting to document her every gaffe. Rather than bashing her for occasionally doing the same foolish, thoughtless things that millions of other teenagers have done, let’s celebrate the fact that she fights for her beliefs, even when her opinions aren’t popular — which sets a positive example for young people who mistakenly believe that social indifference is fashionable.
Miley said it best herself, though, in the new video for her song “Liberty Walk,” which was intercut with footage from Occupy movements around the country. She dedicated the video to “the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in.” Does this make her the most salient new voice in the political sphere? Maybe not, but it’s still a valuable call to action in the politically apathetic realm of mainstream pop music, and one that I’ll happily take to heart.
Miley, you can officiate my gay wedding any day. Keep fighting the good fight, sister.